Although we had four milking cows at the time, in the late thirties, when I was about six years of age, I was captivated by my granddad Jemsie milking a goat.
He had a large garden and the animal was tethered with a long rope that was tied to the butt of a bush. She was fed with cabbage leaves, turnips, damaged spuds and left-overs from meals. Even though she had an ample supply of grass she had a penchant for the hedge leaves and foliage.
Her milk seemed to be much darker and creamier than the ordinary cows'. Back then it had not the same value and was less appreciated. Nowadays, both goat's milk and cheese are premium priced in shops.
Some ten years later I was thought the rudiments of milking. I remember it well. It was still pitch dark that bitterly cold mid-November morning when my elder brother Danny roused me from my cosy nest to help him out. We had four cows at the time, Holly, Molly, Peg and Polly. Polly had only one horn and Molly was regarded as being the quietest, she even allowed herself to be milked in the field beside the shed. Before any of the household got their breakfast, the animals had to be attended to. They got hay, sometimes oaten straw, turnips and beet pulp. Wheaten straw was used for bedding, it had to be replaced when dunged.
After breakfast we went to the cowshed where they were happily chewing the cud. We brought with us a galvanised bucket, a basin of soapy luke warm water and a cloth. They were for cleaning the animals' teats and udders. The massaging helped the cows to relax and induce the milk to flow more freely. The tails had to be cleansed and scrubbed as well, the lash from a dirty tail did not bear thinking about. After the washing was completed my brother sitting on a stool gave me my first lessons. Molly was the cow chosen. With both hands, he held her nearest teats, held them firmly and alternatively gently pulled them down. It seemed so easy! My initial attempts did not go well, instead of the milk going into the bucket it squirted on to my bare legs as I was still in short trousers. The liquid was warm and sticky. Danny gave a pitying smile, Molly showing her annoyance, kicked the bucket a short time later, fortunately there was hardly any milk in it. "Strigging" was also part of the milking process, it meant going back to the same cows and getting the last drop from them. After a while I became so adapt that occasionally I helped out on Sunday mornings.
Some of the strigged milk was put in a bowl for the farmyard cats. They helped to keep the rat population in check, rats and farmyards are synonymous. " Warfarin", a blood thinner was also used to poison them. Recently I was given blood thinning tablets for a chest complaint. Should I instruct my legal adviser to draw up a will?!
One morning, whilst milking, I noticed a rat with a short battered tail drinking from the bowl. Although I disliked the vermin I felt sorry for it because my granddad once told me a story about a rat that was caught in a trap by its tail, it had to gnaw off, to escape.
Polly was pretty old and well passed her "sell by date" when my mother received a legacy from my father's uncle. He was a retired R.I.C policeman and when the family to whom he was going to stay with changed their minds, my mother took him in as a paying guest. With the money, a pure-bred prize winning Ayeshire heifer-in-calf was bought at the Ballsbridge Spring Show. She was my mother's pride and joy and occasionally gave her treats of bruised oats. Neighbours came to see the beautiful animal. Adversity struck about four weeks after calving, she died from a form of the dreaded mastitis. My mother was devastated and disconsolate. It has been said that when she heard of the cow's death she went to the cowshed, put her forehead to the animal's forehead and wept bitterly. I never saw my mother crying.
High hopes were placed on the newly born female calf, she gave some solace. Tragedy however struck again within six months. The adult heifer contacted a bovine fever and was unable to stand. She was isolated and "dosed" with the help of a tube that was inserted into her mouth and down her throat. During her isolation, she was fed with fresh grass that was hand pulled. A corner of the meadow was scythed and the new growth collected in wicker baskets. She also succumbed.
Cow-sheds with their three or four cows that were hand milked have virtually disappeared. Dairy farmers with buildings that can accommodate hundreds of animals are now the norm. A nephew in Crosserlough in Co. Cavan is one such farmer and my brother John occasionally helps out. John recently related to me a story about a dallying cow. When bringing the herd back from the grazing field to be milked this animal in particular lagged behind and when she was gently tapped slowed down instead of going faster and walked beside him. This became a common occurrence. He was however taken aback when she began to put her neck up close to him. He rubbed her neck and scratched her forehead.
In the milking parlour, before putting on the cluster, her teats were inspected for cleanliness and a hand santizer applied. There seemed to be an empathy between man and beast.
After listening to his story about his closeness to an animal I reflected back to the time long past, when milking the cows I felt an affinity with them, especially when Milking Molly.